Institute of Astronomy

Star Formation: Now and Then

SpeakerTalk DateTalk Series
Ralf Klessen, Heidelberg ITA17 March 2011Institute of Astronomy Colloquia



Stars and star clusters are the fundamental visible building blocks of galaxies at present days as well as in the early universe. Identifying the physical processes that initiate and regulate stellar birth in our Milky Way can therefore contribute significantly to our understanding of star formation at high redshifts. Today, stars form by gravoturbulent fragmentation of interstellar gas clouds. The supersonic turbulence ubiquitously observed in Galactic molecular gas generates strong density fluctuations with gravity taking over in the densest and most massive regions. Collapse sets in to build up stars and star clusters. Turbulence plays a dual role. On global scales it provides support, while at the same time it can promote local collapse. Together with the thermodynamic properties of the gas it regulates the fragmentation behavior in star forming clouds. I discuss our current understanding of present-day star formation and speculate about the implications for the first and second generation of stars in the universe. Special emphasis lies on the distribution of stellar masses and their dependency on metallicity. I argue that the characteristic stellar mass is roughly constant for a wide variety of environmental conditions and that we expect a transition towards higher masses for metallicities below about 10^-5 times solar. I furthermore argue that the masses of zero-metallicity stars were smaller than previously thought and that Population III stars typically formed as members of binary or higher-order multiple stellar systems.